FOSS and the Google Question

Devices based on Google’s Linux-based Android operating system may be dominating headlines in the mobile world, but does the search giant *really* love FOSS?

Google’s introduction of the open Go programming language, for instance, has attracted considerable notice in the blogosphere, inviting widespread speculation as to how it will compare with competitors.

“Sounds like Lua,” wrote moopst on LXer, for example.

On the other hand: “GO sounds quite redundant with Walter Bright’s D language to me,” countered theduke459. “I’ve got to say, though, that all this emphasis on ‘garbage collection’ (in both D and GO) is a ridiculous and wasteful consumer of CPU power. Memory leaks can be detected and resolved at development time.”

Leak detectors such as Purify have been around for almost 20 years, theduke459 added.

‘I Think I Actually Trust Them’

“Aside from the unfortunate choice of name — there is another language out there called ‘GO’ — I like what I see in the new language,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “I intend to ramp up and learn it — I guess it’s a faith in the quality of products I’ve seen from Google. I think I actually trust them.”

Unlike Java, “Google did it right and delivered their new offering off the shelf, out of the gates, with support for regular expressions,” yagu added. “That is my personal litmus test for a reasonable and complete language, and it is one of the main reasons I shunned Java for a long time — Java had add-on contributions for regular expression support, but you had to choose and hope the add-on is complete.”

‘It Might Do Some Things Better’

“The Web site looks pretty sparse, which is something Google does now andthen,” added Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean.

“The help documentation for their Apps services? Brilliantly complete,” Dean told LinuxInsider. “The documentation on their Go language or the Chromium browser’s branch? Not so well.”

Diversity is a good thing, Dean said.

“Competition is the engine of innovation,” he explained. “From what I’m seeing, it looks as if it might very well do some things better than more well-known options right now.”

‘My Desire to Geek Out Has Been Lacking’

On the other hand, “I find that a lot of languages are only as good as the application base that springs up around them,” Dean added. “Likely, I won’t be making use of this until a project is particularly suited for it. I’m simply more efficient in what I know right now, and lately my desire to ‘geek out’ for the heckof it has been lacking.”

Still, “I’m very interested to see where this goes,” Dean said.

Meanwhile, there was also discussion on the blogs of Google’s use of Linux in its own operations.

‘A Single Tree’

“It seems that Google manages its kernel code with Perforce,” LWN’s Jonathan Corbet explained. “There is a single tree that all developers commit to. About every 17 months, Google rebases its work to a current mainline release; what follows is a long struggle to make everything work again. Once that’s done, internal ‘feature’ releases happen about every six months.”

Slashdot bloggers were soon contemplating all the varied and many ways Google uses Linux, and they were quickly joined by those on Digg.

Forget the Age of Aquarius — this seems to be the Age of Google and FOSS. Linux Girl couldn’t resist taking to the streets of the blogosphere to see what it all means.

‘Valuable for the Whole World’

“There is nothing like demanding performance from a general-purpose kernel on the largest cluster and database on the planet to kick the tires,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. “The kernel organization cannot work on Google’s hardware, so Google must do some work on the kernel’s software.”

The company does not necessarily have to commit code to suggest useful changes to the kernel, Pogson said.

“TFA on LWN shows that Google can have some influence by discussing the real problems they face getting Linux to work for them,” he explained.

“Google also clearly demonstrates what a great deal Linux is for lesser organizations who cannot afford to spend billions on code development,” Pogson added. “The shared resource that is the Linux kernel is a valuable thing for the whole world.”

‘Taking the Right Steps’

“Google is definitely taking the right steps by talking to the kernel developers about their problem, but I can’t help but wonder if they would save a lot of time and money by having a test lab with their typical workloads to test beta kernels against so the kernel devs can be warned in advance if there is a problem,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out.

“I find it kinda funny that folks tout that Google uses Linux when the most useful FLOSS tool they have developed — the Google FS — they keep internally and therefore don’t have to share the code!” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet chimed in. “So how exactly is Google different from MSFT and Apple, who have both in the past locked up free code for themselves?”

Microsoft ‘More Honest’?

Google keeps its most important code locked up “because they believe it gives them a competitive advantage, which it probably does,” hairyfeet added. “Just because their ‘proprietary’ code is built upon FLOSS doesn’t make it any more free than OSX.”

As a result, hairyfeet added, one could argue that Microsoft is “more honest” in that it doesn’t pretend to “do no evil.”

Of course, TIMTOWTDI, as Perl fans would say. In this case, sharing code is not the only way Google can benefit the community. Rather, by setting a high-profile example and discussing the issues it’s had, the company can still give FOSS a welcome boost.

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